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One of the first things that pop into our heads when we think of Valentine’s Day is chocolates. No surprise there! In the United States alone, Americans have bought about 58 million pounds of chocolates during the week of Valentine’s Day. While chocolate is the go-to gift this month, many of us fear that we’ll pack on the pounds by indulging in these sweet delights. In recent years, however, studies have found that consuming chocolates may lead to a happier, healthier heart. But just what’s in chocolate that makes it a potential part of a heart-healthy diet?
In a 2012 study, researchers reviewed over 40 clinical studies and found that chocolate and cocoa may have a positive impact on heart health. Chocolates contain a type of flavonoids called flavanols – an antioxidant that may help reduce damage from daily stressors. These flavanol compounds also contain epicatechins, which have been shown to improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and protecting you from blood clots.
If you love chocolate, then you’re in for even more good news. According to the study, consuming 50 to 100 milligrams of epicatechin per day might lower blood pressure and help with insulin resistance. To put it in perspective, 100 grams of cocoa contains 26.2 milligrams of epicatechin while 100 grams of dark chocolate contains 12 milligrams of epicatechin. And chocolate isn’t the only source of this heart-healthy antioxidant.
Epicatechins and flavanols are also found in popular smoothie ingredients and other foods. Green tea, for example, contains approximately 8.3 milligrams of epicatechin for every 100 grams of brewed tea. You can enjoy the same benefits in your next smoothie by adding in green tea extract, like that found in the Satisfying Fat Burn Boost. Fruits, like black grapes and blackberries, also contain between 4 to 8 milligrams of epicatechin in every 100-gram serving. And if you’re craving something chocolaty, raw cacao and cacao nibs make excellent additions to your next nutrient-packed smoothie!
Here are a few heart-healthy recipes to get you started:
This Valentine’s Day, give someone a gift that’ll not only tug at the heartstrings but also promote heart health! Enjoy your sweet chocolaty delights in moderation, or better yet, try any one of our epicatechin-packed smoothies – a sweet treat for you and your heart!
Gigi Kwok-Hinsley, DrPH, M.S., R.D., is a Registered Dietitian with a Doctorate in Public Health in the Greater Los Angeles area specializing in nutrition and public health research with experience in adult weight management, school nutrition and health and wellness. Dr. Kwok-Hinsley completed her doctorate in public health at Loma Linda University School of Public Health with an emphasis in preventive care and health care management. She conducted research in bitter taste sensitivity as it relates to a patient’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Outside of work and school, she is actively involved in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
An avid runner and ball hockey player, Gigi also holds a deep understanding of the relationship between evidence-based nutrition and sports performance. With 7 marathons under her belt, Gigi qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2015.
In the past, Gigi held positions in clinical nutrition research at the Veteran Affairs Hospital – West Los Angeles and Kaiser Permanente in health education. She is also an adjunct professor at Mount San Antonio Community College in Los Angeles.
Beside working and running, Gigi enjoys cooking and baking for friends and family.
Gigi holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, San Diego and received her dietetics training from the Coordinated Dietetics Program at California State University, Los Angeles.